Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Arabic Script in Africa

An article of mine that's been in the pipeline for almost four years has finally come out: "Writing 'Shelha' in new media: Emergent non-Arabic literacy in Southwestern Algeria". I discuss the usage of non-Arabic languages (Berber and Korandjé) in Southwestern Algeria in digital media, looking at the orthographic solutions adopted and the purposes of those writing it. The results suggest that, under appropriate circumstances, a high degree of orthographic uniformity is possible without any formal training in writing the language in question – but that the existing sociolinguistic marginalisation of these languages in speech is taken even further in writing.

I received a copy of the book recently, and found the rest of it very interesting. Maarten Kossmann and Ramada Elghamis discuss the traditional Arabic orthography of Tuareg, which shows several unexpected features. Two articles discuss the writing of Afrikaans in Arabic script, which – hard as it may seem to believe – predates its writing in Latin script. Nikolai Dobronravine discusses the use of Arabic to write African languages (as well as the Arabic language) in the Americas – the archives of Brazil, for example, contain a surprising number of letters confiscated from slaves. Other articles examine Fulani, Kanembu, Manding, and Swahili, as well as the history of Arabic writing in general and its distribution in Africa.

On a related note, if you're interested in Libyan Berber, it turns out there's a surprisingly large number of people writing even some of the least well-known varieties on Facebook, often in Arabic script; see my recent post on Awjili negation for Awjila, or Awal n ɛdeməs for Ghadames.


PhoeniX said...

I had a chance to read an offprint of Kossmann's and Elghamis' article. What really surprised me, and it's a shame they don't discuss it, is that the authors of the Tuareg Ajami writing often seem to put a yaa + alif above behind words when the word is consonant final.

اَڢَرَچْىْٰ for afărag. (internet will surely ruin the way this looks, but I hope the point is clear).

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Yes, I did wonder about that. Is it some kind of word divider?

PhoeniX said...

I don't know and it seems like Maarten Kossmann has no idea either.

"Just for fun, perhaps" was his opinion when I asked him about it.

The writing is quite complex and somewhat ornamental in the examples he shows... but I'm still not exactly satisfied with that answer. haha.

Anonymous said...

A while back I gathered some general links on the use of the Arabic script in Africa: